Veterans: From Cardiff to Jerusalem, Michael Chazan

What he likes about Israel: "It's different from where I was brought up in Britain, where people are sour."

Michael Chazan 88 248 (photo credit: Courtesy)
Michael Chazan 88 248
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Michael Chazan is an 81-year-old musician and former special education teacher/music therapist from Wales. He was a child prodigy, playing piano on the Welsh radio at eight, and later went on to win the Education Prize in 1986 for his work in music therapy with disturbed children. He and his wife, Rachel, had four children, and he has nine grandchildren and a new great-grandchild. His life, he says, has been "a life of miracles both from the war point of view and also the health point of view." BEFORE ALIYA The synagogue is one of Chazan's first memories in Wales. Raised in a religious home, he was able to recite the prayers by age four. His mother taught him to play piano at five. He played Beethoven's Moonlight Sonata on the Welsh radio at eight. During his bar mitzva, he read the whole Torah portion - a rare feat in those days - to a packed synagogue during World War II. "I was a bit of a star because... everybody knew about me and what I could perform," he says. "In the middle of my bar mitzva, there was an air-raid warning but nobody moved." Chazan had several near misses as a boy during the war. He recalls when the Germans bombed his hometown of Cardiff in 1940. "The idea was that they would bomb the port. Instead of bombing the port, they bombed our street. We were in the shelter [in the garden]... My father was in the house. I think he was doing duty like an air-raid warden. A bomb fell close by. The house was partially ruined. We couldn't live there. My father was unharmed and so were we but lots of people in the street got killed and a lot of houses were hit. It was a miracle that nothing at all happened." Chazan met Rachel, a musician from Vienna, in the senior movement of Bnei Akiva while he was stationed in London with the British army. Two weeks later they were engaged. "We fell in love straight away." There, he worked in special education while Rachel worked as a doctor in various fields and later as a psychiatrist. Due to parental obligations in England, they didn't make aliya until 1967. PREPARATION While in London, Chazan and his wife learned to read and write modern Hebrew via Jewish Agency seminars taught three times a year by Israeli teachers in holiday spots around England. They participated in these seminars for 13 years. "In 1956, we went on a six-week tour of Israel. I remember my first impression as we took the train from Paris to Marseille and as the train went along the coast to take the ship to Israel. I looked at the Mediterranean - and I had never seen blue sea in my life - and I said, 'No more England for me!' "We fell in love with Israel on the tour as well... In those days, it was terrifically idealistic. It was really sort of impressive, the way things were being built." THE JOURNEY Their 1967 aliya trip took six days. Chazan and his family traveled by train through England, sailed across the English Channel to Paris, where they bought a car, drove to Marseille and then boarded a ship to Haifa. On their way to Haifa, Chazan played a concert on board with his eldest son, Gil, who was nearly 13. Gil played the violin while his father played the piano. SETTLING IN They went to a Jewish Agency hostel for a few months and then moved to the Kiryat Hayovel neighborhood of Jerusalem. "It was pretty exciting... As a religious Jew, the fact that we were in our country, obviously that was why we wanted to come. The whole atmosphere then - I suppose you can even call it euphoric - was completely different than what it is today with the nouveau riche and the millions of cars and people killing themselves and others on the roads. It just wasn't like that. It was a religious ideal." Soon after they arrived, the Six Day War broke out. On the first day, Chazan survived the shelling of the city as he drove around town, picking up family members scattered around the city. "My wife and I responded differently than most people," he says. " We had been through the Blitz and bombing in England. Obviously it's a shock coming to Israel and having a war. We lived on the fourth floor. We could see right over to the southeast. We could see the fighting was getting further and further away... Instead of being in the shelter, with hysterical people, we saw the progress of the war getting better and better." LIFE SINCE ALIYA "At the end of the summer vacation in 1967, [the Education Ministry] sent me to a school to work in a remedial class" for emotionally disturbed children in Kiryat Moshe. "The headmaster, he says, 'I asked for a woman.' I said, 'I'll do anything, but I can't be a woman.' He laughed and we became the greatest of friends. I was in that school until I retired 25 years later." With the help of music, he taught these children how to read and do arithmetic. "Those who didn't want to read, I taught them a song and sang it with the words, and eventually, they became so interested that they learned. I loved my work. "After I retired, I started playing seriously with people in chamber music. I've been doing that for the last 15 years. I meet practically every day, sometimes two or three times a day with people, I also accompany singers, which is my favorite. I play [the piano and cello] together with the violin, the bassoon, clarinet, flute..." After losing Rachel seven years ago, Chazan said he could no longer lead an observant life and even felt suicidal for a time. "When I started to play - at first I couldn't touch an instrument - I felt better. My grandchildren, they need me, so I got out of that... I had the happiest marriage in the world." WHAT HE LIKES ABOUT ISRAEL "It's different from where I was brought up in Britain, where people are sour. People are pretty friendly, but of course, sometimes the behavior is a bit off but you get that in every country." ADVICE TO NEW IMMIGRANTS "The language is a very important thing. Without that, you always feel different. Not only did we know the language, we also mixed with Israelis... So learn the language beforehand and of course, have a profession where you are economically solvent." To propose an immigrant for a 'Veterans' profile, please send a one paragraph e-mail to: